The Assessments of Downtown

South Loudoun Street As mentioned last week, Winchester’s downtown was approaching a time of reckoning in 1980. Three mall developers were looking toward construction of a regional shopping mall in Winchester’s vicinity, and the anchor stores of the downtown – Leggett’s, Sears, and JC Penney’s – had all expressed interest in moving to this new location. Nearby cities that had not invested in their downtowns were experiencing a rapid decline in the older commercial districts, with vacant storefronts, vagrants and drug dealers, and arson and vandalism problems. Winchester hoped to steer away from that path of decline through proactive assessments and actions. (1)

The special tax district that was put in place for the construction costs of the pedestrian mall was due to expire in 1983. Thoughts turned almost immediately to extending that tax and collectively using those funds to promote the downtown. More controversially, the tax could be expanded into an adjacent secondary district comprised of Piccadilly, Boscawen, Cameron, Braddock and Cork Streets. Proponents of this idea cited the tax would average about $500, or about the cost of a full page advertisement in the Winchester Star in 1980.

David Juergens, co-chair of the Downtown Development Committee studying this conundrum, laid out his thoughts on how an older downtown could adapt some of the ideas of the regional mall strategy. The pedestrian mall would have to become event and entertainment oriented, with attractions other than just shopping. A downtown administrator would be hired to coordinate among the merchants and paid for through the special assessment district and dues to the Retail Merchants Association. This was a similar strategy used by the shopping malls to keep a cohesive branding between the multiple stores. Vacant upper floors would be targeted to be filled and maximize the square footage of the downtown buildings. And as is fitting, he echoed the sentiments of architecture lovers everywhere: “We want people to come downtown where the architecture is real and the design honest.”

In November 1980, the National Development Council was hired to lay a financial plan for the downtown to compete against the expected regional mall. The other ideas of special assessment areas and a downtown manager to coordinate between all the merchants like the regional mall model were also met favorably. Efforts had previously been made to keep “alcoholics and slovenly dressed” away from the downtown via a dress code, but that law had been challenged and ruled unconstitutional. The other option was to turn the pedestrian mall into a private street, so that private security officers could be hired to patrol the area. (2) (3)

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the plan was keeping and expanding the special tax district. It was a unique idea and is reportedly the only such district in Virginia. Expanding the assessment into a secondary district caused grumbles, because most of the focus of the downtown goes into the Loudoun Street corridor, then as now. Businesses in the secondary area countered that they could use the money from that tax to individually promote themselves, or that the burden of the tax would end up raising the rents on their spaces to the point where they would need to leave the downtown. (4) Officials, including Katie Rockwood of PHW, spoke in favor of the tax supporting the commercial downtown. From PHW’s perspective, a strong downtown helped to fuel our own Revolving Fund efforts. Although most of those properties are residential, the 30 properties that had passed through the Revolving Fund at that time were cited as spurring $1.6 million in investments. Those properties could not have been so successful in an economically depressed downtown climate. (5)

The Taylor Hotel Irvin Shendow responded with a lengthy open forum piece as well, citing some of the positive changes that had started to take place with the construction of the pedestrian mall. Restaurants had moved downtown, store vacancies declined between 1974 and 1980, and renovations of buildings were on the upswing after 1975. He also noted that although a new regional shopping center might be a tempting move, rents there are almost always higher than in a downtown. He cited an average of $12 to $15 per square foot of space in a mall, compared to $2 to $4 per square foot in the downtown. Add in the regional mall fees, often three to five times the fees paid by the downtown merchants, and he doubted a bump up in rents from the downtown tax would kill the downtown’s “competitive pricing edge.” (6)

At PHW’s Annual Meeting in 1981, Porter Briggs spoke on the future of Winchester’s downtown. Although he warned the shopping mall was inevitable and the downtown would change, the two could coexist. The challenge would be to keep the downtown vital during this transitional process.(7) In the long run, his prediction has been proven correct – but it did take a long time to get there. Check in next week for a look at PHW’s direct contribution to the downtown mall with a facade restoration project at the Huntsberry Building!

The Downtown Crisis of the 1980s

2-4 South Loudoun Street The concern over the future for downtown commercial districts was not limited to Winchester. The National Trust for Historic Preservation saw and studied this need to stabilize downtowns against unprecedented pressures. The most common factor cited by the National Trust for the decline of downtowns across the country included the rise of new commercial construction in the form of strip malls. The Trust cites an increase in retail space from 4 square feet to 38 square feet per capita between 1960 and 2000, an increase which could not be supported by consumer spending. Instead of expanding the number of commercial enterprises, businesses were more likely to migrate to these newly constructed spaces.

Other factors the Trust cited that may not be quite so obvious at first glance stemmed from changes in land use. Zoning regulations fundamentally changed the way towns grew. In the past, small businesses and homes could coexist side by side, with neighborhood stores serving a few blocks as the need arose. Even larger businesses could be just a short walk from residences, or cause a new residential neighborhood to spring up around it to provide housing for the workers. With zoning regulations more firmly separating the notion of residential and commercial districts, main streets with their “mixed use” character were out of date. In general, upper story living spaces were erased from downtowns.

The last factor is the “car culture” that rose in the wake of increased American prosperity, fueled by the interstate highway systems making travel by car faster and more efficient. Downtowns were ill-equipped to adapt to cars, leading to unprecedented numbers of tear downs for parking lots and gas stations. Highways often bypassed towns completely, isolating the older commercial districts and leading to the boom of commercial construction along these new travel corridors.

The pedestrian mall changes to Winchester in the 1970s was an early way the town tried to adapt to the changing retail market. By 1981, it was clear this was an insufficient band aid to a deeper, endemic problem. The area’s first major competition to the downtown was looming as the Apple Blossom Mall project was becoming a reality — and taking key stores out of downtown. Something had to happen to prevent a complete collapse of the downtown.

PHW became aware of the test programs spearheaded by the National Trust taking place in select cities in the late 1970s. When the test program was preparing to launch in Virginia, PHW collaborated with the City in the attempt to bring the Main Street Program to Winchester. We succeeded. In 1985, National Trust experts descended upon Winchester to help set up what we know of today as the Old Town Development Board. But even before the program launched, Winchester and PHW were experimenting to keep activity in Old Town, which we will cover in more detail in the coming weeks.

Learn more about the National Main Street Center and the Four Point Approach to preserving downtowns at their website,

Architectural Walking Tours Shed Light on the Downtown

Winchester Allocates Funds for Mall Revitalization Study By 1980, the downtown mall was facing a crisis as more key stores were lured away from Loudoun Street for strip malls on the fringes of town. Downtown entertainment and cultural activities were few and far between. Serious, comprehensive revitalization plans and a vision for the mall’s future were necessary in order to prevent a complete catastrophe.(1) (2) PHW was prepared to help the budding downtown revitalization efforts.(3) One way to accomplish that in a way that meshed well with PHW’s mission was through revisiting the architectural walking tour.

PHW had first made a foray into the world of self-guided architectural walking tours as a promotion of Winchester and its architecture in the 1970s, culminating in 1976 with a tour booklet written by Katie Rockwood and sponsored by several local banks. The tour itself had been praised highly by the National Trust for historic preservation in 1976 as being informative and easy to understand. The best part in the eyes of the National Trust consultant was the architectural style guide and glossary with its simple but informative illustrations and text. PHW updated the tour text, revised some photographs, reached out to more downtown businesses as sponsors, and reprinted the booklet in 1981. Although now out of print and the tour text and photos are once again out of date, the highly praised introductory text, architectural style guide, and glossary have been digitized and added to PHW’s growing digital library as a supplement to the more current walking tours. View the 1976 architectural walking tour introduction and glossary.

Walking Tour 1984 In addition to the self-guided format of the booklet, PHW volunteers also led guided walking tours in the fall of 1984 and 1985 based on Katie Rockwood’s text.(4) Tours were also adapted for elementary age students and parents through Winchester Public Schools, reportedly drawing in 100 participants for one iteration. (5) PHW continues to stay involved with the walking tour scene, have helped produce the 250 Years of History and Architecture and Civil War self-guided and guided tours in the 1990s, and continues to host one-time tour events like the Italianate guided tour and the recent church tour.

Just producing a walking tour by itself is no guarantee of getting more people to come downtown or boost tourism, but walking tours, particularly when combined with pithy historical facts, is one way to start generating “buzz” about buildings that might otherwise be overlooked.

Have you been on a walking tour of Winchester lately? Check out the selection of guided and self-guided tours available at the Visitors Center. Is there a tour idea you’d like to see produced in the future? Let us know!

From Loudoun Street, circa 1980

The Godfrey and Peter Miller Houses

Parking and Preservation: A Delicate Balance In 1979, founding PHW member and historian Ben Belchic passed away and left a bequest to PHW.(1) Knowing his interest in documentation of Winchester’s history, and his propensity to push others to do that research, the bequest was earmarked for a special project for the Revolving Fund. The opportunity to use that bequest came when a significant log duplex on South Loudoun Street was proposed for demolition as a parking lot.

The Jennings Revolving Fund acquired the property at 422-424 South Loudoun Street to prevent its loss. It was apparent this property was a bit different from others that had passed through the fund. Although incredibly dilapidated after its use as apartments, the house held an architectural secret in its framing.

The older building at 424 S. Loudoun St., constructed by Godfrey Miller circa 1768-1777 (with remains of a smaller stone building circa 1750 incorporated into the log expansion) displayed an unusual construction technique for Winchester. The building was constructed with vertical corner post and plank, or post-and-plank log construction, a technique commonly associated with German settlers yet rarely observed in this area. Other buildings in Winchester may have this construction technique, though this is the only example documented in town. It is a feature impossible to observe from an exterior architectural survey because it lies solely within the bones of the house. In addition, tradition states that logs from Fort Loudoun were repurposed in the construction of this (and other) homes around town.

Because of this unique construction technique and the fortuitous bequest from Ben Belchic, Douglass Reed was hired to lend his expertise in log construction to the documentation of the Godfrey Miller House. A short section was included on the younger (circa 1800) half of the duplex, the Peter Miller House at 422 S. Loudoun St., as well. This report is now available online to researchers: Godfrey and Peter Miller House Report.

The Peter Miller House was purchased from the Revolving Fund by John G. Lewis.(2) That name may be very familiar to those who have been following along with the Friday posts. As an architectural historian, John Lewis documented the work he did and the history of his side of the house. This report is now also available to researchers online: Peter Miller House Report.

These two homes have come a long way since their time as apartments in the mid-twentieth century. To see more of the evolution of the Godfrey and Peter Miller House, visit the Revolving Fund Flickr album.

422-424 South Loudoun Street

New Life Comes to Old John Kerr

Old John Kerr SchoolAs we saw last week, the future of the Old John Kerr School remained in limbo after bids from PHW and Melco were rejected by the City Council. The disposition of the Old John Kerr building became perhaps the most troubling stumbling block to the preservation of the building. Everyone seemed to agree that the building should be saved, was of vital importance to our history, and the best use of the site was not as a parking lot. The only way to enact the preservation was for the building to be sold, and yet bids or plans after six years had swayed the City to part with the building. PHW continued to champion for Old John Kerr, hoping to find another outside entity that could purchase and rehabilitate the old school.

In 1981, a Boston developer was given the green light to redevelop the school into apartments, but again, the deal fell through when federal assistance did not materialize.(1) (2) It was not until 1982 that Shenandoah University (then Shenandoah College and Conservatory of Music) proposed to use the building for nursing and music branch, as well as a community arts center. Despite all the previous setbacks with the various offers on the building, optimism about this deal was high. SU President Jim Davis had done his homework, approached the right people well in advance, and made this offer as painless – and as tempting – to the City as possible.(3) (4)

Like the Conrad House, the affection held for this building brought forth an outpouring of support from the community – this time financial in nature. PHW was thrilled by the prospect of the college tackling the renovation and donated $10,000 to the project in 1982.(5) (6) (7) To help meet the pledge amount, PHW produced “Save John Kerr – It’s Elementary” bumper stickers for every $10 donation. Many other entities also contributed to the project, ensuring the Old John Kerr would not run out of resources before the building could be polished and furnished. In conjunction with the financial support, Winchester Star editorials and retrospectives of the school kept the issue in the limelight as the building approached its centennial year in 1983, reopening at last as another educational center for the community.

Although prospects for the school had looked bleak through much of the 1970s and early 1980s, the persistence and commitment of Winchester’s citizens to retaining their beloved school paid off. Shenandoah University continues to operate the building as the Shenandoah Conservatory Arts Academy, offering children instruction in dance, music, theater, art, and fitness, continuing the legacy of the philanthropist John Kerr and his vision for education the children of Winchester.

The History of Old John Kerr

Old John Kerr School One preservation issue had percolated quietly in the background of the 1970s and into the 1980s – the fate of the vacant old John Kerr School building at the corner of Cameron and Cork Streets. In 1974, the original John Kerr building closed its doors as a public school for the final time, leaving the building empty for nearly ten years. Speculation about the fate of the building started soon after it closed its doors. The fear was that the beloved old school would be demolished for a parking lot. (1)(2)

The school was Winchester’s first endowed public educational facility. Local philanthropist and cabinetmaker John Kerr left a bequest of $7,000 to the City for the education of “poor white children” in 1870. His will was interpreted in such a way that the funds could be used to erect a public school building. Up to this point, the established public schools, although plentiful, were all rented spaces, often in the local churches or in private residences. With the Kerr bequest, which had subsequently grown to $10,000, and the City’s contribution of $6,000, Winchester’s first public school building was constructed from 1883-1884 in the Romanesque Revival style. The school originally consisted of ten rooms and accommodated about 300 to 500 students.

School enrollment boomed in the early 1900s with over 800 students by 1910, making the original building insufficient. The cornerstone for the addition to accommodate the surge in students was laid in 1908. In 1919, the overcrowding was further reduced by the temporary “chicken coops” located on the future grounds of the Handley High School. Virginia Avenue followed in 1931, and Quarles in 1955.

Old John Kerr SchoolAfter serving students in Winchester for over ninety years, the old building was replaced with the new John Kerr Elementary School on Jefferson Street in 1972. It operated for two additional school years serving the the sixth grade during the construction of the Daniel Morgan Middle School before shutting its doors for the last time in 1974. With the school board having no further use for the building, the Council’s Municipal Building Committee recommended in 1975 to demolish Old John Kerr.

Knowing the significance of this building and fearing that a lack of ideas would lead to an untimely and unnecessary demolition for a parking lot, PHW allocated a portion of the grant funds received from the National Trust in 1975 to a feasibility study for the Old John Kerr, led by Arthur Zeigler. Several options for what could go into the building were suggested, including low income housing for the elderly, apartments, a community center, court facilities, or a museum. Although it was not a comprehensive survey by any means, it reaffirmed PHW’s concerns that this large building needed special attention and a specific purpose to be retained. Other ideas sprang up as well. The Winchester Host Lions Club made a separate proposal for shared nonprofit office and service space, while other ideas suggested uses as far ranging as a Bicentennial center, professional offices, nursing home, mental health facility, or Postal Service finance station.(3)

Old John Kerr School
Applications to convert the building to a neighborhood center or a senior center were rejected in 1977. The old school began a slow decline into a vacant eyesore as the school board and the City worked through a potential snag by clearing the title to the three tracts of land comprising the school location and consolidating ownership of the John Kerr property. At the same time, the proposed uses for court facilities for the City and Frederick County fell through, as did the proposal to move postal services into the building. It seemed the time was finally right for the building to go up for sale and find a buyer. (4)

PHW pushed for the City to produce a new appraisal for the building with an eye toward purchasing the structure.(5) Several offers were submitted by the organization, but all were tabled or rejected. To ease some of the deterioration and buy the building more time, PHW volunteers helped secure the building against roof leaks and harsh winter weather and vandalism in 1979.(6) Bids opened again in 1980, and again PHW bid on the property.(7) Despite pessimistic forecasts of a lack of interest, a second bidder, Melco, Inc., also made a proposal for the property. Although both bids and plans were acceptable, both were rejected for undisclosed reasons.(8) (9) Speculation and worry on what would become of the Old John Kerr persisted.

Further information on Winchester’s schools can be found in Garland Quarles’ book, “Winchester, Virginia: Streets, Churches, Schools,” published by the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society.

PHW’s 15th Anniversary

PHW 15th Anniversary ProgramWe end our look back at PHW in the 1970s with a milestone celebration for the organization. Most likely due to the revolving fund and other activities in the busy year 1974, the organization missed commemorating its tenth anniversary, but instead celebrated its 15th anniversary in 1979-1980. (1) A number of commemorative items were produced for the organization that year, including a plaque donated by Mary Henkel to record the PHW founders for posterity, a plaque noting Carroll Henkel as PHW’s first president, and a delicate calligraphy record of PHW’s history to date lettered by B.J. Eastep.(2) These plaques currently hang in the foyer at the Hexagon House.

The calligraphy reads:

Preservation of Historic Winchester, Inc., was organized in 1964 by concerned members of the community for the purpose of safeguarding the heritage of the City and assuring a quality of life for tomorrow represented by the best of Winchester’s past. To the end that this goal may be encouraged among the people and the charm of the City maintained and improved, PHW has, through a program of education, enlisted sympathy for and participation in the preservation, restoration, and ownership of sites, buildings, structures, and objects significant to the cultural, social, political, economic, and architectural history of Winchester.
A major goal of PHW is to preserve the visual heritage of the City by saving old buildings and encouraging their use for present day needs. The W. Raymond Jennings Revolving Fund was established in 1976 as a source of money used to purchase properties of historic and/or architectural significance and resell them with protective covenants. Since its inception, the fund has bought and sold 26 buildings in the Winchester Historic District, the majority in the “Potatoe Hill” area of South Loudoun Street. eleven of the buildings are of log construction and at least seven date back to the 18th century. The Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission recognized the preservation efforts of the City of Winchester and PHW in the spring of 1979 by designating the Winchester Historic District as a Virginia Historic Landmark. And, at present, Winchester’s Historic District is awaiting inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
As PHW enters its sixteenth year, the organization has much to be proud of. Historic preservation has gained increasing acceptance in Winchester and throughout the nation. Not only are grand old homes being saved, but also entire neighborhoods and commercial districts. As residents rediscover links to the past, merchants realize that preservation is indeed good business. With over 700 members, PHW is now the largest volunteer organization in the City. Interesting lectures and tours throughout the year help to increase membership, educate the public, and enlist sympathy for, and participation in, preservation and restoration.
Winchester: Limestone, Sycamores and Architecture was published in November 1977 by PHW. This book, written by nationally-known author Walter Kidney and photographed and designed by James Morrison, is the first comprehensive book on Winchester’s history and architecture. PHW is recognized as a vital force in Winchester and with the enthusiastic support of its citizenry, one can understand why, in Winchester, Virginia, the past is looking forward to the future.

The Annual Meeting in 1979 was dedicated to recapping the organizational history in five year increments. Tom Scully covered the formative years of PHW from 1964-1969, Katie Rockwood tackled the formation of the Jennings Revolving Fund from 1969-1974, and Dave Juergans reviewed PHW’s modern era of the architectural survey and the subsequent Virginia Historic Landmarks Designation and publication of the Limestone, Sycamores, and Architecture book from 1974-1979.

This was also the inaugural year for PHW’s preservation awards, now a staple of our June Annual Meeting. The honored projects of 1979 included the Revolving Fund property of the Andrew Baker House at 702 S. Loudoun St., adaptive reuse of the 1930s bus terminal by Nobel Travel Agency, and the new addition at the Handley Library for new compatible construction and interior restoration work. Be sure to visit the Flickr album for more images from the 1979 Annual Meeting.

Historic District SignThe tone of the 15th year exuded optimism for the growth and achievements of PHW and the eagerly anticipated acceptance of Winchester to the National Register of Historic Places, which was formalized in 1980. And indeed, much had been accomplished in a short period – but more challenges lay in store for PHW in the 1980s. We will pick up the next round of the “preservation versus parking lots” fight next Friday with the old John Kerr School.(3)

The Revolving Fund at the End of 1979

Last week, we recapped the educational work of PHW through 1979. Similarly, the Revolving Fund Steering Committee had made great strides in purchasing and reselling endangered properties in this period. Twenty-two properties had been bought and “revolved” by the fund into the hands of new owners and helped stabilize the Potato Hill neighborhood. The story of their preservation generated less controversy than the efforts to save the Simon Lauck house, but they are worth noting nonetheless. Those properties included:

500 block South Loudoun 1. 311 S. Loudoun St., The Simon Lauck House, c. 1790
Log house renovated into a quality office building.

2. 522 S. Loudoun St., Dr. Cornelius Baldwin’s House, c. 1785,
524 S. Loudoun St., Dr. Baldwin’s Doctor’s Office, c. 1800
Federal-style frame buildings restored as single family homes.

3. 510 S. Loudoun St., c. 1795 and
4. 512 S. Loudoun St., Grim-Moore Properties, c. 1780
Federal-style brick and log home renovated into a single family residence.

5. 20-22 S. Kent St. and
6. 24 S. Kent St., Grant Family Properties, c. 1883
Two frame townhouses renovated into commercial space and law offices.

500 block South Loudoun Street7. 121-127 W. Boscawen St., Josiah Massie’s Hatter Shop, c. 1810
Log building renovated into owner-occupied office space.

8. 501 S. Loudoun St., c. 1800
Log house renovated into a single family residence.

9. 513 S. Loudoun St., c. 1800
Log and clapboard building renovated into a single family residence.

10. 702 S. Loudoun St., Andrew Baker House, c. 1800
Log and clapboard building, renovated into a single family residence.

11. 502 S. Loudoun St., c. 1882
Folk Victorian frame house, renovated into owner occupied residence with rental unit.

500 block South Loudoun Street12. 418 N. Loudoun St., Magill-Keller House, c. 1840 with 1880s Victorian additions
Renovated into ten quality apartments.

13. 302 S. Kent St. and
14. 304 S. Kent St., Stoney Point, c. 1810
Log duplex built for the Everly family, renovated into two single family residences.

15. 606 S. Loudoun St., c. 1906
Frame workingman’s house sold to the tenant who renovated the house to be used as a single family residence.

16. 610 S. Loudoun St. and
17. 612-614 S. Loudoun St., Conrad Creb Properties, c. 1785
Log and clapboard houses, renovated into two single family residences.

500 block South Loudoun Street18. 115-119 S. East Lane, Robert Rose House, c. 1840
Brick Federal-style townhouse, renovated into a single family residence.

19. 211 S. Kent St., c. 1810
Log and frame house, renovated and maintained as a single family residence.

20. 219 S. Kent St., c. 1800
Log and German siding house, renovated as a single family residence.

21. 124 E. Clifford St., Joseph and Irene Virginia Hodgson House, c. 1913
Frame and stucco house preserved as a single family residence.

22. 125 E. Clifford St., c. 1840 with substantial improvements c. 1880
Log and frame house with Victorian additions. Renovated as a single family residence.

Additional images of Revolving Fund properties may be viewed in the Flickr album. For information on deed restrictions for Revolving Fund properties, please see the Jennings Revolving Fund page.

Activities and Events of the 1970s

We are drawing near the end of the 1970s in our weekly recaps of PHW’s history. Before making the jump to a new decade with new challenges, let’s take a moment to note some of the smaller events than those previously previously discussed. Chronologically, those events included:


PHW Program1974

  • Clement E. Conger, Dept. of State, and Curator of the White House, “The White House and Its Collections”
  • Mrs. Frances Edmonds, Director of Historic Charleston, “Defining Historic Districts”
  • Bus Tour of Fredericksburg, presented by Ron Shibley, Historic Fredericksburg Foundation
  • Walking tour “A Snoop Through History: Buildings Preserved for Adaptive Use Today as Law Offices”


  • Arthur Ziegler, Director of Pittsburgh Landmarks and History Foundations, conducted several days of seminars on administrative planning for Jennings Revolving Fund
  • Thomas Slade, Dept. of Properties, National Trust, discussed building surveys as a tool for preservation
  • Bus Tour of Alexandria, presented by Jean Keith, Historic Alexandria Foundation
  • Annual Meeting, display of 17th and 18th century oil paintings at Glen Burnie

PHW Program1976


PHW Program1978